Some people believe that nothing worth having comes easily. These contrary individuals are undoubtedly birders at heart. Many bird watchers, especially members of the lister and twitcher branches of the birding community, place a value on their bird sightings in direct proportion to the number of obstacles they needed to overcome to spot said birds.
Virtually everyone can be seduced by the thrill of the hunt. In the hunt, one’s quarry is not really the issue. The ideal companion, a great parking spot, the flea market find of the century…we all want something desperately. Rather than call this feeling greed, I’ll label it as intense desire. The more intense this desire is, the more exhilarating its fulfillment.
Birding encourages that kind of desire and commands the effort needed to satisfy this desire. That’s why birders enter the field knowing what birds to look for. They check the lists, cross-reference the season, comb the Rare Bird Alerts for good measure, and read up on the habits of their quarry. Birders eagerly study species habitat, diet, song, markings, migration, nesting, and breeding. If this isn’t hunting, what is?
As an exercise in perception, birding is much tougher than hunting. Yes, most birds sing prettier than game mammals, but they also fly and weigh a whole lot less too. They certainly don’t leave the same kind of tracks. Animals like deer aren’t that hard to find; we stumble upon them quite often while hiking or birding. In the woods, one has to get a lot closer to most birds for a positive ID than one needs to be to take a shot at a large mammal.
The two activities are most similar when it comes to stalking the quarry. The act of trying to sneak up on a creature with a far greater perceptual range than you’ll ever have feels truly primeval. Your life doesn’t depend on it, but the stakes are still high. One wrong step and the bird will fly, and you may never see that bird again. Terrifying!
Of course, the fundamental difference between hunting and birding is one of the latter’s most compelling features. You get to experience the thrill of the hunt, but in the end, you have a check on your list rather than blood on your hands, assuming, that is, you do it right!